Putin promised not to kill Zelensky, says former Israeli PM

A former Israeli prime minister who briefly mediated at the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine says he obtained a promise from the Russian president not to kill his Ukrainian counterpart.

Naftali Bennett emerged as an unlikely middleman in the early weeks of the war, becoming one of the few Western leaders to meet President Vladimir Putin during the war during a whirlwind trip to Moscow last March.

While Bennett’s mediation efforts appear to have done little to end the bloodshed that continues to this day, his remarks, in an interview posted online Saturday evening, put a damper on highlight the secret diplomacy and urgent efforts that were underway to try to bring the conflict to a rapid pace. conclusion to its beginnings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shake hands as they meet in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday for their first meeting, hailing the friendly ties between the two countries. (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)Yevgeny Biyatov / AP

During the five-hour interview, which covered many other topics, Bennett says he asked Putin if he intended to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“I asked ‘what is this? Are you planning to kill Zelensky? He said ‘I won’t kill Zelenskyy.’ So I said to him, “I have to understand that you’re giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelenskyy. He said, ‘I’m not going to kill Zelenskyy.’

Bennett said he then called Zelenskyy to inform him of Putin’s engagement.

“‘Look, I walked out of a meeting, he’s not going to kill you.’ He asks, ‘are you sure?’ I said ‘100% he won’t kill you.’

Bennett said that during his mediation, Putin dropped his vow to ask for Ukraine’s disarmament and Zelenskyy promised not to join NATO.

There was no immediate response from the Kremlin, which has previously denied Ukrainian claims that Russia intended to assassinate Zelenskyy.

Bennett, a largely inexperienced leader who had served as prime minister for just over six months when the war broke out, unexpectedly threw himself into international diplomacy after putting Israel in an uncomfortable middle ground between Russia and Ukraine. Israel views its good relationship with the Kremlin as strategic in the face of threats from Iran, but it aligns itself with Western nations and also seeks to show support for Ukraine.

An observant Jew and little known internationally, he flew to Moscow for his meeting with Putin on the Jewish Sabbath, breaking his religious commitments and putting himself at the forefront of global efforts to stop the war.

But his peacemaking efforts did not seem to take off and his tenure in power was short-lived. Bennett’s government, an ideologically diverse union that sent current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into brief political exile, collapsed this summer following infighting. Bennett walked away from politics and is now a private citizen.


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